Electronic hall passes: A powerful school safety technology

This article first appeared at securitymagazine.com | Written by Guy Grace and Michael Dorn | July 13th, 2022

The February 14, 2018 tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School brought the severity of the vaping epidemic in schools to the forefront for many K-12 security leaders and stakeholders.

During the shooting, a number of students and staff were unable to shelter in a third-floor restroom because the school had previously begun locking the first and third floor student restrooms due to a severe vaping problem. A campus monitor was stationed near the second-floor restrooms every day to monitor the student bathrooms to prevent vaping.

While it’s impossible to know for certain if the attacker would have followed students and staff into the restroom had they been able to shelter there, school stakeholders do know that the problems with student e-cigarette use were severe enough for the school to assign some of its more than 1,000 safety personnel to fixed locations every school day to address a severe vaping problem in student restrooms. Like many responses to vaping in school districts across the nation, locking bathrooms was also inconvenient for students who needed to use the restroom during instructional periods.

Hall Passes to Combat Vaping

Since that tragic day, powerful school safety technologies have been deployed that, when used in concert with appropriate policies, practices, awareness efforts, cessation programs and other technologies, can help school officials more effectively address the challenges resulting from what the U.S. Surgeon General has declared to be a public health epidemic. Extremely difficult for staff to detect, easy to use and highly addictive, e-cigarettes have caused unprecedented harm to the millions of K-12 students who now regularly use them.

As with other addictive drugs and alcohol, student e-cigarette use also creates additional safety hazards. In areas that are difficult to supervise or monitor, students who vape can be at risk for sexual assaults, armed robberies, assaults with weapons and other violent crimes. Overdoses from nicotine, opioids and other drugs from vaping have become a major issue, with reports of students being rendered unconscious while sharing e-cigarettes. Some school administrators report having to regularly call an ambulance to their school for medical emergencies as a result from vaping, and exploding vape devices have caused fires in schools and on school buses.

Policies; staff training; vape detectors in restrooms, classrooms and other common hotspots; smart cameras with relevant video analytic software; access control systems; and door position sensors can all help address vaping if the budget allows. However, the use of electronic hall pass systems in concert with these approaches can further reduce student e-cigarette use. And while vaping has become one of the most pressing school safety violations in many districts, electronic hall passes can also help address other more traditional security threats.

Robust electronic hall pass systems provide an easy-to-use and powerful technology that can help improve student supervision while reducing classroom distractions, lost time on tasks and the number of student conduct violations. A reduction in student conduct violations decreases the number of in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, students assigned to restorative practices programs and expulsions. Also of considerable benefit, these systems afford greater freedom for students who have a legitimate need to obtain a hall pass while reducing the workload of teachers, administrators and support personnel.

Benefits of Electronic Hall Pass Systems

  • Allow authorized staff to instantly verify if a student has a valid hall pass
  • Reduce student conduct violations
  • Reduce the number of disciplinary actions
  • Help enforce “no-contact” orders
  • Prevent abuse of hall pass privileges
  • Provide increased freedom for students who have a legitimate need for a hall pass
  • Reduce lost instructional time
  • Reduce classroom disruptions
  • Reduce risk of transmission of germs
  • Reduce classroom disruptions
  • Reduce liability and reputation risk exposure
  • Identify teachers who issue an unusually high number of hall passes

How Electronic Hall Passes Work

While specific features and costs vary by vendor, electronic hall pass systems typically allow students to use electronic devices to submit touchless requests for hall passes. When a request is submitted electronically, the teacher can quickly approve or deny the request with less classroom disruption while affording privacy for students who request a pass.

When a teacher, coach or other staff member issues a pass, other authorized staff can see that the pass has been issued on their devices. This makes it easier for staff to tell if a student they encounter during instructional periods has a valid hall pass and is in a location consistent with the pass. Staff who are assigned to monitor security cameras can often determine if a student they observe on camera has a valid pass and is in a location approved by the issuing staff member.

This technology also makes it easy to identify students who obtain numerous passes each day from different teachers. These systems further help administrators determine if some teachers are granting a far greater number of hall passes than what is typical of most teachers in their schools.

Electronic hall pass system features can help school administrators prevent students from obtaining passes to share a vape device, buying and selling e-cigarettes and pods, or engaging in other unsafe or inappropriate conduct. For example, if three high school students have been caught vaping together, these systems can prevent more than one of these students from obtaining a pass at the same time.

While vaping is among the most pervasive and difficult school safety challenges to address in recent years, school officials often struggle with other challenges, such as enforcing “no contact” orders related to harassment or stalking. Administrators can enter the names of students who are not supposed to have contact with each other, so the system will automatically deny the request of either student if the other student is out of class with a pass.

Electronic hall pass systems can also help prevent vandalism, truancy, sexual misconduct, fights and other problem behaviors. When integrated with vape detectors, smart cameras, analytic software, access control systems, student supervision training for staff members, and other security strategies, these systems can be even more effective.

Electronic hall pass systems are one of the most cost-effective and practical school safety technologies available today. While more expensive technologies are required to holistically address some issues like student e-cigarette use, electronic hall pass systems can provide some of the best returns on the time, energy and budget required to utilize them.

The authors welcome questions and reader feedback at safehavensinternational.org